Cloud Computing For SMEs: Benefits Outweigh Risks
Cloud computing – internet-based servers, storage and applications – is almost ubiquitous today, and not without reason. Especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), cloud computing’s cost-effectiveness is invaluable. It offers infinite storage capacity, easy accessibility and transfer of data that increase productivity at an affordable price tag.
SMEs can reap benefits of cloud computing
Cloud computing offers increased productivity by saving time and space. Data can be shared and accessed virtually without physical servers and additional hardware. Software installations and updates also eliminate the need to store and maintain extensive hardware infrastructure.
Before cloud computing, in order to transfer large amounts of data, users had to save files into thumb drives (or if one wants to go way back – diskettes) and physically bring them to the recipient. With cloud, the user only needs the recipient’s email to share unlimited amounts of data from anywhere and anytime. This increases productivity tremendously as communication is much more efficient, speeding up processes like product development and sales generation.
Work delegation also becomes easier with cloud computing, enabling flexible work arrangements. Workers, who can only work remotely, like mothers and students, can access shared drives on cloud storage to access files without physically going to the office.
Best of all, these benefits come at an affordable price tag, as subscription plans usually allow the user to pay only for what is needed. Many services even come with free versions that allow companies to try before committing to the subscription terms.
This levels the playing field for many SMEs. A 2015 report from the Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA) stated that the average expenditure on IT for a local SME was only around 2.5 per cent of its budget. Given the small outlay of cloud, SMEs can achieve the same IT infrastructure as larger corporations even without paying steep start-up costs.
With services like Google Drive, Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Services, which are affordable and easy to use, services like e-mails, sharing platforms, data storage, and IT support are increasingly accessed, managed and updated with cloud.
Given the ubiquity of cloud computing, SMEs who do not take advantage of the conveniences that it offers will lose out in this highly competitive market.
Manage risks by taking security precaution
Understandably, despite the benefits, some SMEs are reluctant to adopt cloud computing because of potential security risks. According to the 2015 Internet Security Report, 60 per cent of all cyber attacks are on SMEs. This is because SMEs can be gateways to attack larger corporations.
For instance, in 2013, the second-largest U.S. based retailer, Target, suffered a massive breach due to malicious software being passed through an email exchange with its air-conditioning SME subcontractor. The breach cost Target 40 million credit and debit card numbers.
And security breaches are costly. On average, a data breach costs an organisation US$6.6 million in business and repair costs, according to a Ponemon Institute study.
Another reason why SMEs are particularly vulnerable is because they tend to spend less time and effort on security. To prevent that, here are some options that SMEs should invest in to protect their business against cybercrimes.
1. Secure authentication
Apart from picking a trusted cloud service provider, SMEs can keep their data safe by ensuring their authentication process – username and password – is strong. Two simple ways to do so are to avoid passwords that can be easily guessed at and change passwords regularly. As cloud storage can be accessed through public networks, having good password practices is important whether you are a business or an individual.
2. Protective barriers
SMEs can also secure their networks with a protective barrier such as a firewall. Wi-Fi routers act as gateways for other wireless devices through which information is transmitted, and thus it should be equipped with an advanced firewall.
Whether is it in the form of hardware or software, firewalls help to lock down open ports in the network, which can be used by cyber attackers to introduce malware and other harmful software. Firewalls also filter out harmful traffic before it can enter the network, securing your business network.
Applications can also be another loophole. If your business is heavily centred on applications, you can consider using Web Application Firewalls (WAF) that protect against attacks on applications.
3. Private access
Private networks allow computers to connect with each other while excluding others on the Internet, insulating the network from malicious applications and users like viruses, worms and hackers as well as the technical difficulties such as loss of connectivity or server outages. Computers in private networks have private IP addresses which make it unsearchable to other external computers.
4. Secure hardware
An often over-looked part of cloud security is hardware. Equipment such as printers and scanners should have security features that are suited for the cloud computing world.
For instance, Canon’s MAXIFY printers, targeted at small offices, are specially designed to protect the business from network security risks. It enables printing and scanning from cloud services with IP addresses filtering so that errant hosts can be excluded from using the printers. Advanced LAN settings also ensure data confidentiality.
For bigger SMEs, the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) setting helps to ensure a secured networking and administration of printers with multi-device management and monitoring via popular fleet management applications.
Additionally, support for SMTP (email servers) adds another layer of security. By having compatibility with enterprise mail servers, e-mail data is transmitted via the user’s mail server to the printer directly. Functions like scan-to-email can be conducted more securely and privately.
With 50% lower cost per print for XL ink cartridges, and productivity features like single-pass ADF, the MAXIFY range fits the bill for cost-conscious SMEs that are looking to adopt cloud technology.
The virtual world has its risks, but today’s SMEs will lose out if they avoid adopting cloud computing. SMEs should stay informed of how to manage the potential risks involved in order to capitalise on the benefits that cloud computing can offer.
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